After losing senior captain Ben Street for the season with a torn ACL in the team's fourth game, it took the Badgers two weeks to figure out how to streamline their offense through other sources.
Now getting back over the .500 mark for the first time all season, Wisconsin could quite possibly be without its other captain for an extended length of time.
With 2:03 left in the second period, junior captain Blake Geoffrion, who was in a vulnerable hunched position when he was hit by Anchorage's Tyler Moir, went down in a heap along the dasher boards in the Anchorage zone, grabbing his lower left leg in obvious pain after it was crushed underneath his body weight.
Couple the fact that Wisconsin lost freshman Jake Gardiner late in the first period, was out skated and out shot Friday night and the Badgers were lucky to walk away one-goal winners.
"We escaped, had a let down in the third period and had some injuries," said senior Shane Connelly. "There's another level we have to continue to go to. We can't consistently go back and forth between mediocre and really good. We have to find that consistency."
Although being on the short end of the stick multiple times, Wisconsin (8-7-2, 6-5-2 WCHA) was able to hang its hat on its penalty kill, which was one of the major proponents in helping the Badgers go through the month of November 7-1-1.
Although ranking third in the WCHA in killing off 89.7 percent of its penalties, Wisconsin had been solid over the past nine contests, entering the game giving up only four goals in 57 chances (93 percent).
So when the Badgers went two men down in a span of eight seconds, the UW defense barely shook in their skates, killing off one minute, 52 seconds of 5-on-3 hockey midway through the second period, that ignited the mundane 12,268 fans and started to propel the Badgers.
"We all study (the penalty kill) pretty hard," defenseman Cody Goloubef said. "It's all about good sticks blocking shots on the pressure. Guys are sacrificing their body to block shots. We all had to buy into the system. I think it took awhile, but I think we are doing pretty well now."
One of the other keys to the penalty kill has been Wisconsin's senior goal tender, as Shane Connelly admittedly is playing with as much confidence as he ever had. Stopping 35 of 37 shots on the evening, Connelly stymied the four shots he faced on Anchorage's two-man advantage, including a point-blank attempt from Paul Crowder that he managed to deflect with his stick.
"There are always turning points in the game and that was clearing a major turning point," UW head coach Mike Eaves said.
The floodgates for Wisconsin opened after that. With UW back on the power play, freshman center Derek Stephan took a pass from forward Michael Davies inside the face-off circle and swept the puck past UAA goalie Bryan Christianson to double the lead. Twenty-one second later, Goloubef threw a puck on net from the blue line and was rewarded, as the puck somehow found its way past Christianson to give UW a 3-0 at 17:43.
"It started with the penalty kill," Goloubef said. "All three guys had some big blocks shots and that all contributes to the power play goal. If we don't have that, who knows what happens on the power play. That got the crowd in it, got the team into it and led to the goals."
Wisconsin didn't have to wait long for most of the air to be let out of its metaphoric balloon, as Geoffrion was helped off the ice by team trainers less than a minute later. After that, the Badgers weren't the same.
Alaska Anchorage (7-6-2, 4-5-2 WCHA), who out skated the Badgers 5-on-5 for the entire 60 minutes, finally had some results to show for its efforts. Seawolf forward and Beloit-native Sean Wiles sent a one-timer that banged off the crossbar for a power play goal, Anchorage's only successful conversion on seven attempts.
Five minutes later, Trevon Hunt scored his first career goal from the right face-off circle that snuck through the Wisconsin defense to turn UW's third shutout in four games to a one-goal nail biter.
"It was a different team without Blake," Eaves said of his team in the third period. "He is our captain, the guy that carries the message and leads by example. It was like flying a plane and we lost one of our engines and we have to land the darn thing."
But Connelly came up big when he had to. The senior snuffed out Crowder's shot with over two minutes left and foiled a two-on-one when Josh Lunden's shot was smothered in Connelly's chest with less than a minute to go, as the Badgers closed the door from there.
"Shane played unbelievable and was making big saves left and right," Goloubef said. "(Anchorage) gets pucks on net really well, but we have to thank Shane for this one. He held us in there and made sure he got us the win."